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The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka was translated into Hebrew and published in 2002. This was made possible by a contribution from the Estate Fund of two of our townspeople, Mordechai Zeligman and his wife, Batya, of blessed memory, as administered by one of our townspeople, Amir Margalit, Adv.

The book was also published in Polish. This effort was directed by Dr. Zalman Drezner, assisted by the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel Committee.

 

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Pictured: President Zalman Shazar receives the first copy of the
Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka from Yehuda Chamiel in 1963
On the left: Chief Editor, Yitzchak Ivri; on the right: Shalom Margalit, Member of the Book Publishing Committee

 

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Introduction

In the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka, you will meet and learn about a community with Torah and cultural institutions, its own way of life, synagogues, study halls, schools, Zionist and anti-Zionist youth organizations. Chassidim and Misnagdim, merchants and tradesmen, community workers, amateur actors, the wealthy, the beggars, the water carriers – all came together in a wonderful realization of life.

Among the townspeople were those who dreamed of Zion and Jerusalem, thirsty for the redemption. They arose, shook off the life of the Diaspora, and emigrated to the Land of Israel as pioneers, leaving houses and livelihoods, to build and put down roots in the Land of Israel. They participated in the wars of the undergrounds and in the War of Independence. Some fell in battle, and made the establishment of the State of Israel possible.

Those who emigrated before the World War II and became established in Israel – in cities, villages, moshavim and kibbutzim – supported and assisted the surviving remnant of our townspeople through charitable funds, and by finding them places to work and live. Thus, they helped to bring them some tranquility and comfort after the suffering and hardship endured during the Holocaust.

In the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka, published in 1963, the articles and poems are written mostly in Yiddish, in consideration of both the Holocaust survivors, who spoke and read only Yiddish, and of our townspeople in the Diaspora.

With the decline of the generation of Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivors, we must translate the book into English, the international language, for future generations of Diaspora Jews who do not speak Yiddish or Hebrew. It is important to us that they know and learn about everything that happened to their forefathers during the Holocaust. They must know about their roots – where they came from, how they lived and supported themselves. How they created a rich culture, despite the impossible conditions in which they lived. What happened to them during the Holocaust, how they fought and struggled for their lives. How many of them were murdered, destroyed by the German Nazi monsters. The book includes accounts written by survivors, those who remained alive to describe what happened to them in the Nazi hell. How each struggled with his remaining strength for each day, every hour and every minute of existence. About the abnormal deaths and horrible murders of their families, each member of which was a world of his own.

We must not forget what happened to our fathers, our brothers, our families. This book must be passed from generation to generation, to bear true witness to what the German Nazis and their helpers did to them.

This book includes pictures of memorial plaques put up in Ostrolenka in cooperation with the Ostrolenka Municipality, at the Holon cemetery, the

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Chamber of the Holocaust in Jerusalem and the Martyrs' Forest on the way to Jerusalem.

In the translated edition of the book, some articles have been added that did not appear in the earlier edition. They are significant, as they complete descriptions of concentration camps and the partisans' struggles in the forests in what was then Russia (the former U.S.S.R.) and in Poland, and about the Ostrolenkans in the U.S.S.R. Of course, an introduction written by Poles living in present day Ostrolenka has been added to the book.

We wish to extend our grateful thanks and deep appreciation to the Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Charitable Trust. Its contribution made publication of this book in English possible.

Dr. Miriam Adelson is a granddaughter of the Zamelson-Byszko family from Ostrolenka. Born in Israel to Menucha Zamelson and Simcha Farbstein, she now lives in the United States with her husband, Sheldon. The couple are well-known as supporters of Israeli institutions such as Yad Vashem, hospitals, universities and Taglit-Birthright Israel, which provides educational trips to Israel for young Jewish adults.

I would like to thank the members of the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel Committee, whose efforts contributed to the publication of this book:

Eitan Levin, Adv., Dr. Zalman Drezner, Shlomo Margalit and Hanita Maskit.

  Yehuda Chamiel
Chairman of the Jewish Community
of Ostrolenka in Israel


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Preface

A Holocaust, unparalleled in any other generation or era, came upon the Jewish people. Six million of its sons and daughters were killed, dying all sorts of depraved deaths on the impure altar of German evil and the bloodthirstiness of two-footed animals of prey.

We, the surviving remnant of this deluge of blood, are still distraught and shocked. We demand and ask of a strange, cold Gentile world, emptied of Jews: “Why?!” …

This nightmare of the torments, humiliations and abnormal deaths suffered by our holy brothers strikes us with horror, as they died in unknown places and were not given a Jewish burial.

Memorial books, monuments to their way of life and “their march to death”, stand out of the ruins of cities and ash-hills of bodies; they became cemeteries for the bones of our holy brothers and families spread elsewhere – our flesh and blood.

May Ostrolenka and its surrounding area, “a city and mother in Israel”, be magnified and sanctified! Saying Kaddish, the mourner's prayer, in public, we, who have remained alive, stand in awe and reverence before this memorial book – an eternal monument to their souls which departed in holiness and purity, the holy ones of Ostrolenka and its vicinity!

We had one fate, although we remained alive. The ax of Amalek schemed to decapitate us, too, wherever a Jewish heart beat. We had one fate. Only the thwarting of the Satanic plot kept us alive! But life is hard for us, very hard, when we remember your deaths! …

Our God, as well, the God of Israel, turned aside from us during those days of horror and was silent on His heights. Oh, what happened to us! …

We have written this memorial book not only to tell the story. We have engraved mortal pain on it, as a monument to your exterminated lives, hovering somewhere.

Rest, dear holy ones, in this memorial book. It is your cemetery, to which we will always come. Here we finally bring you to Jewish graves, upon which we will pour our tears mixed with our hearts' blood.

Leafing through chapters of torture and death, we will hear your unanswerable question, which you took with you on your last march: “Why?!” Your last cry, “Hear, O Israel”, on the gallows and in the gas chambers. Your fervent Will and Testament at the last moment of your souls' departure: “Remember and do not forget to overcome our torturers and annihilators!”

In these chapters, we will always feel the pulse of your lives, your sayings and jokes, your kind-heartedness and Jewish intelligence and wit. You were like one family, you clung to each other in love for Ostrolenka, for people of the town and the area. Your smile will shine out of this book as it did then, always

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radiating faith in mankind and the future, even when the heavens were covered with heavy clouds, and the sun hid its face from you …

We promise you: we will live your lives that were prematurely cut off, we will continue your lost existence.

To our sorrow, many details of your lives and deaths are missing from this book. Not everything is known to us and we could not record it all.

We greatly regret that not every lost, holy family is mentioned in detail in this book. Most of Ostrolenka's Jewish families were completely eliminated in the ghettos and death camps, without leaving a trace behind. Those who could help to obtain complete material are also missing. Not everyone responded in a timely fashion to our public appeal to contribute to this memorial book, although we made repeated requests.

For years, we strode toward our holy goal. We did not stop midway. We did not flinch from difficulties and obstacles that stood in our way, or from the troubling doubt: “Will we reach our goal?” While we collected and compiled every word, line, report, picture and incident along our difficult road, we roused and called upon our townsmen the world over.

In parts of the book, we tried to include as much as possible of Jewish Ostrolenka's special character, its ways of life, its development, its religious and secular institutions, its political parties, organizations, and so on, even though things happened in much the same way in all the Jewish cities and towns, in the spirit and way of life of the time.

We know that our work is not complete. It is far from perfect.

But all those left of Ostrolenka, all over the world, felt that the book must be published at last. Every further postponement was a desecration of our debt to our holy ones.

May they be remembered favorably and for blessing, all those who helped us erect this living monument: our townspeople in Israel and the world over.

We pray that the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka will have a special place in the homes of each of our townspeople, and will shine there with an eternal flame.

May our book be a call for warm brotherhood and strong ties between all Ostrolenkans remaining alive all over the world.


  Yitzchak Ivri


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With the Book

The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is a book about a Jewish community, about all its experiences and existence. It was a community with institutions and a way of life – Torah and social institutions, prayer houses and study houses, schools and workshops, cultural halls and youth clubhouses. A Jewish community among others in Poland, which grew, declined and then shone again and flourished with the changing times and fates of nations, until the ax man rose against it and destroyed every trace of Jewish majesty, splendor and greatness, the beauty and modest life of the community of Ostrolenka. Look and see if there is any pain like my pain, which this has caused me.

*

The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is a book of Jews, Jews from a town in Poland who worked hard on weekdays and, on the Sabbath, became more spiritual beings. Men, women, infants, children and youths, rabbis and others who attended to the community's religious needs, teachers, community elders and simple Jews, merchants, laborers, public workers, the wealthy, the poor, property owners and beggars. From the heads of the community to water carriers, all were holy and pure, sanctified in their lives and their deaths, in blood and fire and burning winds. Covered in ancient glory, they were heroes, giants of the world and the nation – a legend.

*

The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is a book of survivors, grieving wretches, carrying in their hearts the sorrow of the world, the rage of bereavement and speechless anger. It is a book of orphans who say Kaddish, endowing the justice of their forefathers unto the generations, accumulating their right little by little, parts of life, echoes of childhood and youth, a scroll of days gone by. They unite in the memory of souls that have flown aloft, like the letters on a Torah scroll parchment set afire. The book is a collection and record of ways of life and events, experiences and occurrences, times of work and struggle, lives of spirit and action, small and great achievements, laughter and tears. The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is an eternal memorial on the graves of our forefathers, erected by children, brothers, relatives and friends whose lips, when communing with their memory, whisper a prayer – Yizkor.

*

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The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is a book of the blood and tears of thousands, who in the treatise of life in the Diaspora wove a dream of Zion and Jerusalem. It is a book of the blood and tears of a generation thirsting for redemption, a generation that shook off the yoke of an exile of enslavement, that while yearning for freedom and striving with all its might to achieve it, was cut off: gone up in the flames of the furnace, devoured in the jaws of bestial nations. A book of blood and tears, marking the sins of nations and peoples, the wickedness of a world that ignored them, that closed off the ways of Zion to hand them over to the brutal poretz, that stood by as their blood was spilled and closed its ears to the cries of those who fled when there was no flight and no refuge – and were caught on the threshold. The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is a book of blood and bitter tears, now dried. Oh, what we had!

  Chaim Chamiel

 

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Ostrolenka Jewry celebrates the 3rd of May with the City Fathers:
Moshe Margolis (President of the Community), the late Rabbi Izchak Burstein
(Rabbi of the city), Leibel Cristal of Lomza (Secretary of the Community)

 


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Introduction by Polish Public Figures
in Ostrolenka Today

The Jewish community in Ostrolenka was established at the end of the eighteenth century, although Jews lived nearby even earlier. From that century and until 1918, Poland was not independent, but under foreign occupation. Ostrolenka was primarily under Russian occupation. Since the Jewish settlement began, the city was part of the independent Polish state for only 21 years. In 1939, at the outbreak of the World War II, the Jewish population numbered approximately 5,000 people, a third of the city's total population. For many generations, the record of the history of our lives was interrupted by historical events that occurred because of Ostrolenka's geographic location and the complex geopolitical situation of the population living in the Polish territories. For about 150 years, our common lives were played out on a background of regular, day-to-day problems. The special problems of the small city's environmental landscape were characterized by poor urban development, the organization of economic life in an undeveloped agricultural area without significant natural resources, establishing various houses of prayer and public buildings, and participation in decisions concerning the city and its inhabitants. It is may be said that, generally, we did not live in great material wealth. There was cooperation between us, as well as insularity of one degree or another.

These varied lives were marked by amity and mutual regard, but also by misunderstandings, attacks on market stalls or attempts to boycott Jewish businesses, especially in the final years; however, this never led to serious clashes or pogroms. Life continued until October 1939, when the Jews were expelled from Ostrolenka by the Germans.

The increased interest of the city of Ostrolenka and its inhabitants in its former Jewish residents began in 1988, when the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel Committee responded positively to the request of Mrs. Magister Jadwiga Nowicka, Chairwoman of the Association of Ostrolenka Friends, to be in contact with us. One year later, accepting an invitation from the Mayor, Mr. Stanislaw Zaczkowski, a group of 30 of our townspeople from Israel and the United States came to Ostrolenka for the first time since World War II. The group participated in a festive conference in memory of the fiftieth anniversary of the outbreak of the World War II on 1 September 1939, and in the unveiling of a memorial plaque dedicated to the memory of the Jewish residents who lived among us and who were murdered in the Holocaust. Since then, the friendly relationship between us has strengthened. In August 1991, a group of townspeople visited again, on the occasion of the erection of a large monument in memory of the Jewish residents who died or were murdered in the Shoah. The location chosen for the monument was where the Jewish cemetery had been, near the Janusz Korczak Orphanage.

In 1992 and 1993, organizations of natives of Ostrolenka and its vicinity, now living in Israel, extended invitations to visit that country to our

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representatives: Mrs. Magister Jadwiga Nowicka, Magister Waldemar Zaluska of the Association of Ostrolenka Friends, and the Ostrolenkan District Manager, Magister Stanislaw Podmostko and his wife, Ewa. In 1994, the Scientific Association Ostrolenka Region, which I head, joined them. A few years ago, I was privileged to accept their invitation and visit Israel. As a result of all these contacts and visits, relationships strengthened and expanded even more, and the idea was born to translate the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka into Polish.

We are happy and proud to state that we have succeeded, after continuous efforts and together with the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel, to publish the Polish translation of the book. A ceremony marking the event was held in Ostrolenka on 18 June 2001, in the presence of a vast audience which included representatives of many institutions and the Israeli embassy in Poland, as well as a large group of natives of our city now living in Israel. In the near future, the book will be available for sale all over Poland.

For all this – our thanks and deep appreciation, first and foremost, to Dr. Zalman Drezner and Mr. Yehuda Chamiel.

We are very familiar with the book's contents, and are full of wonder and pride in the enormous effort and exacting preparation of the material, as well as the rare diligence invested in the book by the Jewish natives of our city. Such an effort could only have been made by those who love those dear to them, lost in their prime, from the depths of their hearts. Here, in this place and in the name of the city of Ostrolenka and its residents, we wish to express our share in the deep sorrow for the tragedy that befell our fellow Jewish townspeople, and the Jewish people in general, in the terrible, unique Holocaust.

What, then, does the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka mean to us?

First, it is a source book and an authentic, invaluable historical document, for several reasons:

  1. The book describes the lives and destruction of the Jewish residents of our city. They were a large community, with a great share in the economic and cultural development of Ostrolenka as a city. After a common life shared by us for many generations, nearly all this community was suddenly murdered.

    It disappeared, with all its educational institutions and many prayer houses, with a large gallery of colorful personalities and leaders, and spiritual greats.

    The book gives us a faithful picture of the community's mindset, its value system, its spiritual affinity to cling to its traditions and ancient religion, its intensive and highly gifted economic activity, and the longings of many Jewish residents for the Land of Israel and their immigration there.

  2. Of course, the book also contains not a little material about the entire city and the Polish-Christian residents of Ostrolenka and its vicinity, revealing facts and aspects of events not appearing elsewhere.

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  1. Almost no archival material remains about the city, since it was almost completely burned during World War I. Any material taken out at the start of World War II was lost.
  2. When World War II broke out, most of us were only small children or not born yet. Therefore, we did not witness the lives shared with the Jewish population.

Reading certain parts of the book may point to instances of nobility of spirit among us, while others may bring hurt and shame, awakening deep sorrow. The book is a source of pride for us for two additional reasons: first, it is the first publication in Polish of a “memorial book” of the Jewish residents of a specific city in Poland. Second, this is the first time that close, continual cooperation between a Polish city and its former Jewish residents has brought about the joint publication of a memorial book of its Jewish inhabitants.

We must not forget that, for six generations, there lived in Ostrolenka two large communities, Polish and Jewish, of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, separated by traditions, cultures and, sometimes, even language. Although there were certain clashes of interest in the area of economic subsistence, the relationship between them was quite good. It sometimes even improved, in light of their common reality and fate, such as hard economic conditions, natural disasters and expressions of local municipal patriotism. Usually, Ostrolenka was a fairly quiet city, without extreme nationalistic manifestations, and blessed with independent, moderate public leaders. Interference and incitement by outside elements (such as foreign conquerors), wars and extreme ideological movements, prejudices and stereotypical thoughts were the primary causes of the deterioration of relations between us.

Let us return for a moment to the book and to present day Ostrolenka. We must admit that after reading and studying the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka, the city seems, to our eyes, “a little different”. While touring its streets, we stop here and there, pointing out the location of the large study hall, the Jewish school or the home of that noble-souled woman, Pesia Szereszewska Nasielski. We think of the thousands of Jewish inhabitants who also lived and strolled in its streets, who were – and who vanished forever. We ponder again and again on their deaths, which were not caused by some natural disaster and force majeure, but by people on the continent of Europe in the fourth decade of the twentieth century.

All of us must do everything we can to continue to extend the memorialization of our city's Jewish inhabitants and the cooperation between us, and to pass this holy message on to the young generation and our future generations.

It is our wish and greatest aspiration that the contacts and friendly relationships between us and the Jewish Community of Ostrolenka in Israel will serve as an example of breaking down prejudices and stereotypes, as a declaration, in all humility, of what was good and what was bad between us, and to forgive whatever possible injuries we caused each other in our common past.

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Although we are aware that an honest dialogue between ethnic, religious communities of different generations may be unpleasant and controversial, in the somewhat longer run, it is always worthwhile. It may even add a small seed to the present worldwide aspiration to achieve justice and respect for every person for himself.

We present here a quotation of a young Ostrolenkan, who recently participated in an all-Poland competition on understanding the present day State of Israel. His words are a true reflection of Jewish-Polish relations in present day Ostrolenka. “I think that among Ostrolenkans, as among Poles in general, there is a special fear of talking about Jews. People are simply afraid that the reputation of an anti-Semite will stick to them and that, at the same time, they will be identified as 'Jew lovers'. While I believe that this tendency is lately changing for the good, we must help it to do so. More information about the former inhabitants of our city of the religion of Moses, may remove the remnants of anti-Semitism still dormant among us. We must not forget that the Jews are part of the history of Ostrolenka and Poland. It is simply a shame not to know about them.”

Finally, we wish to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your positive response to our request of you, and for permitting us to add our Introduction to the new Hebrew edition of the Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka. We see this not only as our elementary obligation toward our Jewish townspeople, but first and foremost, as our humane and moral obligation of the first order toward them, most of whom were murdered in the Holocaust.

  Sincerely yours,
Dr. Janush Golota

Chairman of the Scientific Association Ostrolenka Region
and in the name of the Association of Ostrolenka Friends
Ostrolenka, June 2002

Translated from the Polish by Zalman Drezner

 


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Notes of the Editorial Staff

  1. The Book of the Jewish Community in Ostrolenka is not intended just as a monument of remembrance, but also for the surviving remnant of our people. Besides gas chambers and crematoria, there were also survivors. Besides the bleeding past, there was also tomorrow and the continuation they did not attain. Ostrolenkans were uprooted – those “of the city and of the family” all over the world – and because of lack of information, very little of the material was included in the book.
  2. Some historical events recorded about the general development of our city Ostrolenka were translated, as written by their Polish authors, into Yiddish, in the style and mood of the past (such as: “Ostrolenka of the Past” – “Ostrolenka and Our Region”. All this was done with the intention of bringing the gradual development of that period to the reader.
  3. Every article in this memorial book was written and printed in the writer's language, in Yiddish or Hebrew. Some articles, dealing with history or the Holocaust, were translated and printed in both languages.
  4. In the Yiddish text, we permitted ourselves to overlook all sorts of grammatical rules, such as, in expressions – how Ostrolenkan Jews spoke. For example, Der Buch (“this book”), instead of Das Buch, etc.
  5. We apologize for inexact dates in written material, and for errors in names and nicknames, spiritual or professional, of those who were murdered and those alive today, as they were then called in the city. This was done for the sake of completion and the nature of the people in that situation, without any intention of offence, God forbid, or detracting from their worth. As to lineage (yichus), everyone is on the same level, the scholar, the simple carter, the merchant, the water carrier, the community leader. All worked with equal honesty. All are holy before God and before man.

 

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The large study hall rebuilt after World War I; the Nazis turned it into a automobile garage

 


To the Generations of Ostrolenka
and its Jewish Community

 

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Ostrolenka in Ancient Poland

Ostrolenka, an ancient settlement on the banks of the River Narew, was elevated by the Polish aristocracy of the Mazowsze region to city status. Since then, it has developed and thrived. Ostrolenka was proclaimed an administrative district in the Kingdom of Poland, and was leased to Queen Bona for an unlimited period of time. In 1552, she settled a dispute between the city's citizens and the head of the district, Mikola Wilga. According to the settlement between them, these prohibitions applied to city dwellers: they were not allowed to work in villages, transfer letters, provide hay for the court, etc. On the other hand, the head of the district could not require them to provide him with beer. He was required to receive the shipment of chickens due him at a specified time only, that is, on St. Martin's Day. He was required to permit them to chop down dried-up trees that were not necessary for beehives, to use for heating. The function of collecting fines was transferred to mayors. A “barley tax” was imposed on every house. According to data from accountants in 1564, there had been 334 houses in Ostrolenka; the year before, however, a fire burned everything to the ground. As was written in an accounting of those days: “This city was founded by Duke Janusz Mazowietski. He granted rights to the inhabitants and determined their needs, such as a bath house, a barber shop and weighing scales. He declared that there would be two fairs a year, until 1472. In 1502, Duke Conrad granted special rights to the shoemakers' branch of the craftsmen's guild, according to which not the municipality, but the guild itself would impose a fine for defective shoes. In the event that the guild would not do this speedily, however, we will do it ourselves, or whosoever comes after us.” So wrote the Duke. In 1578, King Bathori decreed new laws and regulations pertaining to the guild, and imposed a fee on those who learned a trade, as well as on those who became independent craftsmen.

In 1616, it was recorded in the chronicles:

There are 230 houses and 50 empty plots of land. According to the old custom, taxes are not paid on houses and empty plots. Among craftsmen, only shoemakers pay tax. They must give a pair of shoes. Since there are now 27 shoemakers, and every pair is valued at 10 grosz, the total amount of tax is 9 florin. In addition, shoemakers pay 6 florins in exchange for the right to gather wood in the forest. Fishermen, 14 in number, pay tax at the rate of 6 grosz.

Two market days, on Tuesday and Saturday, and two fairs bring in 15 florins. From the butchers, both from the city and the villages, we take one shoulder of beef from each animal. The inhabitants built a bridge, at no small expense. Therefore, they collect a toll from everyone crossing it. There is a fine imposed on beer brewers as well: they must give the mill 5 measures of grain out of every 10 measures they grind there. In addition, they are required to give

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Queen Bona one jug of beer out of every brewing, or money (cenars) 15. It was also decided that every brewer will give a jug containing 3 pots of beer, worth 8 florins. 27 grosz per year. 61 flour mills were on the River Omulew. 7 on the River Narew.

In the big city called Zagajnica, between the rivers Zbojna, Torasz, and Omulew, continuing until the Prussian border, there are various animals. The lessee received into his possession the city and the animals in it. He presented a complaint, however, against the ruler, Lominski, for causing great damage to the animals and the plants in the forest. The bee keepers, 84 in number, were also required to pay tax. Half of the tax for those involved with the forest, and the second half for sale. Certain craftsmen, such as barrel makers and wooden ceiling builders, were required to pay for the right to take trees from the forest. Each of them paid 2 florins, which accumulate and bring in 36 florins a year. The villagers also paid for the right to take unused waste wood – wood broken by the wind or fires – scattered in the forest. In exchange for fishing in the ponds in that region, they paid 38 florins a year. The income of the municipality from flour mills and from the city totaled 1,007 florins and 25 grosz.

In 1622, King Sigismund III approved a work regulation for brewers, written in Polish. King August III, in a decree issued in 1745, declared: “Out of respect for the Christian religion and the honor of the Church, we forbid the purchase and sale of merchandise and foodstuffs before the end of prayers at 8:00 A.M. In the purchase of grain and food, preference will be given to local townspeople before strangers – in particular, Jews. For the benefit of the city, we establish three new fairs: on St. Anthony of Padua Day, St. Francis Day and on the Holy Virgin of Porziuncola Day.” The wooden church built in 1399 by Duke Jan of Mazowsze, even before the founding of the city, was rebuilt in 1641, this time of stone. At that time, in the primeval forests around Ostrolenka, lived people called Kurpie, a sort of tribe of highly talented people, who especially excelled at hunting and bee keeping. Their marksmen killed not a few Swedes during the invasion of Charles XII. At the beginning of the reign of King August III (1734-1735), there were many clashes with them.

From the book Ancient Poland by M. Balinski and Lipinski, Warsaw, 1834

 


Ostrolenka and Its District*

Ostrolenka – an administrative district in the Plock [Plotsk] region, on the banks of the River Narew, on sandy land surrounded by thick forests, situated fifteen and a half miles from Warsaw. The city was known for the battles that took place in it in 1702 between the locals (Kurpie) and the Swedes, and for the battle near the city in 1831.

The city now has (according to statistics, we assume this refers to approximately the years 1855-7) 3,460 inhabitants, of them 2,330 Christians, 1,130 Jews. It has 192 houses and two churches. The local government: the district office, the magistrate's court, the municipality, the forestry office, the salt warehouse, the hospital, the post office, the primary school, the girls' school. Fairs are held six times a year.

The Ostrolenka district is part of the Plock region, and covers an area of 58 square miles. Its important rivers are the Bug, Narew, Barycz and Dozoga Rivers. The number of lakes in this district is small. They are located between the Rivers Bug and Narew. One lake, called Stari Bug, is in the village of Borow, a second lake, Zurawia, is in the village of Galina, and Lake Kolo is in the village of Odryn. Other lakes: Psirwa, Kupanka, Osola, Michalowska, Ogridzisk. Between the Bug and the Narew are Lakes Samocenta and Stara Rzeka.

The total population of the district is 83,967 people, divided according to religion: Catholics – 71,230, Prawoslawni – 3, Ewagelni – 1,694, Jews – 11,040. Distribution by place of residence: in cities: Christians 6,967, others 7,059 – total 14,026. In villages: Christians 64,960, others 3,981 – total 69,941. Brewers – 33, water mills – 12, windmills – 50, brick factories – 14, tar and turpentine factories – 10, heads of cattle – 39,831.

* (From the General Polish Encyclopedia, Warsaw, 1865, vol. 20, p. 165.)

 


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Number of Inhabitants of Ostrolenka and the District

District

Year Number of
inhabitants
Jews %
1897 80,430 10,121 12.6
1921 73,836 6,631 9.0

City

Year Number of
inhabitants
Jews %
1808 2,036 99  
1827 3,030 496 16.4
1857 3,371 1,128 33.5
1897 7,965 4,564 57.3
1921 9,145 3,352  
1921 13,341 4,291 32.2

Waszyotinski “The Jewish inhabitants” Poland in the X, XI XX century Warsaw 1930 (pages 11, 36) 43915 Jewish historical institution

 


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A Chapter about the City and the Jews in it

M. Cynowicz

The history of the city of Ostrolenka is written about in the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, published by Masada (Volume 1, 1949): “Ostrołęka – a city in the area of Bialystok, on the River Narew. Founded in the 14th century. In 1807, the French defeated the Russians there. In 1832, the Russians, under the command of Field Marshal Diebitsch, gained a victory over the Polish army, under the command of General Skrzynecki. With this, the fate of the Rebellion of 1831 was sealed. In 1915, many battles took place there between the Germans and the Russians.” The article adds that “Ostrołęka is known as a place where amber can be found.” Regarding the Jewish community in this city, the article finds it necessary to inform us of the same things already found in the Israeli Hebrew Encyclopedia, published by Eshkol, as follows:

It seems that there was no known Jewish community in Ostrolenka at the time of the ancient Polish kingdom. In the Geographical and Statistical Dictionary of the Polish Kingdom by Balinski and Lipinski, an old privilege is mentioned that was granted by the Polish king, Sigismund III, in 1622, and which was approved later as well, in 1745, by the Polish king, Friedrich Augustus, according to which Christian citizens of Ostrolenka were given preference over foreigners, and in particular Jews, when buying food products.

In 1827, there were 3,030 inhabitants – considered quite a large town in those days – primarily in the Lomza District, among them 16.4 percent Jews. According to the special order of 25 April 1826, the Jews were allowed to live only in certain neighborhoods in the area of the city of Ostrolenka. Special individuals, however, who had special rights – particularly the wealthy, who paid high taxes – were given permission to live in any quarter and its streets. In 1862, this law was nullified and Jews were allowed to become propertied and purchase real estate in all areas of the city and its domain.

In the course of time, the number of Jews in Ostrolenka grew. They came from other small towns, especially from nearby small Jewish villages and settlements. In 1856, there were 1,129 Jews in Ostrolenka, 36.8 percent of the total population. In 1897, there were 4,564 Jews there (57.3 percent), and in 1909, 6,219 Jews (53 percent). In this period, until the outbreak of World War I, Ostrolenka reached the height of its quantitative (commercial-economic) and qualitative (spiritual-cultural) development. It became, after the Ostrovy community (which then numbered 7,279 Jews), the third largest Jewish community in the Lomza region.

An important factor in the development of Jewish Ostrolenka was the Russian army regiments that camped regularly at the gates of the city. Many Jewish contractors provided them with provisions.

As it was near the border of Eastern Prussia, Ostrolenka also served as an intermediate commercial station in the conveying and export area (in a non-official capacity). Its nearby train station also added to the development of commerce and traffic. Ostrolenka preceded the regional city by decades, as the railway did not come as far as the latter until 1915.

With the outbreak of World War I, a 'decline' began in Jewish Ostrolenka. During the first years of the war, the city was empty of its Jewish inhabitants for a time. Because of its proximity to the front, it was almost completely destroyed. In addition, an expulsion decree applied to the Jews. Many of them emigrated to the cities of Inner Russia, and others departed for nearby cities – Lomza, Ostrow, Warsaw and others. Despite the rebuilding of the ruins and the return of city life to normalcy, many of the Jews who left did not return, and the Jewish community did not reach its former standing.

[Page 33]

In 1921, there were 3,352 Jews in Ostrolenka (36.7 percent of the total population). Due to worsened security conditions, and because of circumstances caused by the period and the economic pressure on the Jews in Poland in the 1920's and especially the '30s, the tendency to emigrate to other countries, and in particular, to America and Israel increased.

 


Ostrolenka (Bialystok Region)

Ostrolenka, a district city of 14,000 inhabitants, of them 4,900 Jews, the community (gmina) was founded in 1794. At that time, a Jewish cemetery was established there, 40 kilometers from the German-Prussian border. Ostrolenka was one of the first towns destroyed during World War I. In 1915, the Russian Army, in its retreat from the city, evacuated all the city's inhabitants and set fire to it. Only 8-10 houses were saved from the fire.

Since 1916, during the German occupation, the city was built almost anew. Some ruins remained, among them the beautiful synagogue that was built in 1856, with the initiative and financial support of the Tikocziner family.

At the time of the German occupation, there were eight members of the Community Committee. In 1924, the community ranked among the large and important communities. There were 12 members in the Council. The last elections were held in March 1936.

The members of the Committee were: Chairman – Mendel Gedanken (General Zionist); his deputy – Wolf Lejb Barszcz (Agudah); members: Eli Bajuk (Rightist Labor Zionist), Notte Barman (Artisans), Icchak Rozonowicz (Mizrachi), Szlomo Rutsky (Agudah), Jechiel Szafran (Labor Zionist) and Awraham Piaseczny. Members of the Council were: Chairman – Mosze Lejb Skrobacz (Mizrachi); his deputy – Mosze Aron Edel (Agudah); members: Jakow Dawid Blumsztejn (Mizrachi), Mendel Cuker (Agudah), Motel Dolowicz (Agudah), Pesach Gercek (Rightist Labor Zionist), Nachman Nowogrodsky (Rightist Labor Zionist), Chaim Wolf Rozenblum (Agudah), Icchak Sapir (Agudah), Dawid Wajsblum (Rightist Labor Zionist), Josef Wonszak (Rightist Labor Zionist), Aron Wylozny (Artisans). Community workers were the Rabbi, his deputy, 3 ritual slaughterers and 6 clerks. Religious institutions, such as a Talmud Torah, a yeshiva, Linat HaTzedek, a burial society, etc., operated in the community.

Almanac … Warsaw 1939, pages 176, 201, 41 Jewish Historical Institute

 

ost033.jpg
The Jewish community after World War I

 

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